Whenever we are talking about maximizing table turnover, I need to start the conversation with a disclaimer. Sometimes, speeding up the amount of time your guests occupy a seat is not your best option.
For example: if your restaurant isn't on a wait, then you will likely want to keep your guests happy and try to offer them another drink or dessert. You also have to be careful and consider the long term effect of rushing customers out, whether directly or indirectly.
But as any restaurant employee will say, when you need to turn a table, you need to turn a table over.
I recently spoke with Toast's Social Media Coordinator Cassy Lee, who has several years' worth of restaurant experience. “My boss always told me to be like a ninja on the floor. You are here to enhance a guest experience - not be the experience,” she said.
Cassy used to serve in some of Boston’s finest restaurants. She also goes on to explain that her first thought was always, "How can I maximize our chances of getting this person back into our restaurant again?" This thought always trumps maximizing per-person average or table turnover.
But if you need an ace in the hole during the busiest shift of your career, check out these 11 tips for how to maximize table turnover in your restaurant.
1. Establish Your Guests' Timeline Before They Sit Down
I always want to ask my guests a very simple question before they sit down, or if your restaurant is a bit more casual, this can happen immediately upon seating them.
The question is simple “What brings you folks in today?”
It’s important to know if they are in a hurry or not. If they are, then speed up using many of the tips below. If they are not in a hurry and want to enjoy their experience, be careful to move them along to quickly.
2. If You Have a Wait, Don’t Seat Incomplete Parties
Service and guest experience are always first and foremost, so if you do not have a wait, please do not keep incomplete parties standing at the door while they are waiting.
However, if you are on a wait and slammed, this is totally acceptable.
3. Ask Them to Leave
That’s right, ask that table that is just camping out to leave - just be tactful in your approach.
If you have a bar or lounge that is available instead, offer to set them up a table and then walk them over. Hand them off to the new bartender or cocktail server and remind them how much you enjoyed taking care of them.
If the situation is really bad and the table does not want to leave, offer to buy then dessert or drink in the bar. Depending on your restaurant's level of service and guests expectations, this not as uncomfortable as it sounds. If your restaurant is more casual, be honest - let them know that you have a long wait of other guests that would love their table.
Again, be tactful and polite, but most of the time your guests just get lost in their own world and understand that you need the table - they just lost track of time. In a fine dining establishment, I often feel that just the offer of a drink or a table in the bar is sufficient.
4. Suggest Items That the Kitchen Can Prepare Quickly
To move guests out more naturally, keep in mind that guests will often order suggestions when they are properly described. Make sure servers suggest one or two items that the kitchen can prepare quickly and that diners always love. If a guest is torn between an entree-sized Greek salad or a well-done steak, the suggestion should be clear.
5. Limit the Amount of Steps
One of the biggest slow downs to service is taking two trips to do what could have been done in one.
For example, don’t come to the table and introduce yourself empty handed. Bring your bread basket and water pitcher so you can kill three birds with one trip. This signals to your patrons that the next time the server approaches them it should be time to order.
Way to shave 5-10 minutes off the service time!
6. Have Certain Items Prepared in Advance
Filling a ramekin with ranch dressing does not seem like it takes much time, but every time it happens, the minutes will add up. In this case, you are spending time during service doing a task that could have been done ahead of time.
Get as much as possible prepared ahead of time without sacrificing quality. Fill ramekins with popular sauces and dressing, prepare certain garnishes in advance, prepare water or iced tea pitchers in advance. You can even go so far as to have certain menu items partially prepared in advance as long as it does not effect quality.
7. Bring Them the Check
Again, be careful here.
The check is definitely a cue to your guest that you are done with them, but if they are having a great time, you don’t want to cut their evening short and risk them deciding to enjoy a date at your neighboring restaurant next time.
If you have offered dessert and they've declined, I think it's completely acceptable to bring the check and remind guests the check is all set. You can even have their check ready to present when you offer dessert, and if they say no, then present it.
If there's no rush, politely remind them it's there for them whenever they are ready.
8. Utilize Efficient Restaurant Technology
Nothing is more frustrating to a restaurant manager than seeing a line of servers in front of the terminal waiting to close out a check. This stalls up the time it takes to turn tables and keeps everyone waiting longer than they should be.
Some restaurant POS systems can actually increase table turn time exponentially faster than legacy systems. This efficiency is enhanced even further with pay-at-the-table mobile tech, which save servers from all those tedious trips to and from the terminal.
You can also maximize table turnover with these design elements.
Louder music with a faster, upbeat rhythm will encourage guests to eat faster.
Brighter restaurant colors that are closer to primary colors (red, yellow, and blue) are more stimulating than warm soft tones and will inhibit your guests from relaxing as much.
Comfortable booths and big soft chairs will keep guests seated longer. Balance comfort with your need to turn tables. Also, seating guests in the interior of your restaurant will encourage them to eat faster and speed up their meal.
4. Limit Menu Options
Large menus will slow down service for three reasons.
- First, that added complexity will create longer ticket times in the kitchen.
- Second, your guests will have a harder time making decisions.
- Third, your guests are often less satisfied when their options are endless then they are with limited options.
This is known as the Paradox of Choice. It causes guests to compare their choice to the other options. If they ordered the black and bleu burger but were considering the brunch burger - even if the b&b burger was fantastic - part of their brain is always going to wonder if they other would have been better.
Don't give them the opportunity to face that dilemma.
Its most important that you find balance between quality of service, satisfied guests, per-person average check size, and table turns. Ultimately, the purpose of running a restaurant is to maximize profits. It's up to you to determine what combination of speed and revenue per guest leads to the most satisfied guests with the most profits.
Don’t be afraid to test. Try something you have never tried before. Just be sure to measure your results so you know if its helping you reach your goals.
Article courtesy of Toast